Modifications and Enforcement of Child Relocation Orders
In this article, we’ll break down the following:
- Understanding Child Relocation Laws in Florida
- Modifications of Child Relocation Orders
- Enforcement of Child Relocation Orders
- Examples of Successful Modifications and Enforcement
- Tips for Parents Involved in Child Relocation Cases
Child relocation, as defined in Florida Statutes Section 61.13001, is when a custodial parent and the child move to a new location 50 miles away from their primary place of residence for at least 60 consecutive days.
Understanding the complexities of child relocation orders and their modifications is crucial for parents and legal professionals in Florida to navigate the legal system effectively and prioritize the best interests of the child involved.
Here’s everything you need to know about modifications and enforcement of child relocation orders with regard to custodial agreements and parenting plans.
Understanding Child Relocation Laws in Florida
Florida’s child relocation laws, as provided under Florida Statutes Section 61.13001, prohibit a custodial parent from relocating to a new location more than 50 miles from the parent’s primary residence for at least 60 consecutive days.
Relocation is only lawful if both parties enter into a written agreement that meets the criteria outlined in Florida Statutes Section 61.13001(2)(a). It is worth noting that courts do not consider oral agreements valid. Allende v. Veloz, 273 So. 3d 142 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2019)
Earlier versions of the statute defined “relocation” as a change in the location of the child’s primary residence. This definition has since been revised to mean a change in location from the parent’s primary residence to a new location 50 miles away from the previous residence when the last order establishing time-sharing went into effect. Hull v. Hull, 273 So. 3d 1135 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2019)
If the non-custodial parent objects to the relocation, the relocating parent or legal guardian must file a petition with the court to relocate and serve the objecting party with notice at least 60 days before the proposed relocation date. Florida Statutes Section 61.13001(3)(b)
Some factors that Florida courts consider in child relocation petitions include the following:
- The child’s relationship with each parent;
- The child’s preference, depending on their age and maturity;
- The impact the relocation may have on their physical, emotional, and educational well-being;
- The reason for the proposed relocation;
- The economic and employment circumstances of each parent;
- Whether the proposed relocation will improve the child and parent’s quality of life.
Role of the Court in Deciding Child Relocation Cases
Relocations can occur in two ways.
On the one hand, you have relocation by mutual consent, where both parties agree to allow the custodial parent or legal guardian to move with the child. The agreement must be written, define a new parenting plan including a time-sharing schedule, detail the logistics involved to provide the non-custodial parent access to the child, and be signed by both parties to reflect their consent to the relocation.
This agreement is then filed with the court to modify the current custody order. Relocation by mutual consent describes the best-case scenario where both parents agree that the move would be in their child’s best interest.
On the other hand, if both parents cannot reach an amicable agreement where one party objects to the proposed relocation, the courts can decide for them. In such cases, the relocating parent must file a petition with the courts and serve the non-custodial parent with written notice at least 60 days before the proposed relocation date. The petition and notice must include the following:
- A description of the new residence, including the physical address and the mailing address (if different from the physical address);
- The home phone number of the new residence (if known);
- The proposed date for the relocation;
- A statement providing reasons for the proposed move along with the relevant supporting documents;
- A detailed proposal of the revised parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule and the transport arrangements required to facilitate the non-custodial parent’s visitation with the child.
The legal requirements for obtaining a child relocation order involving notice and consent must meet the criteria provided under Florida Statutes Section 61.13001(3)(a).
Modifications of Child Relocation Orders in Florida
When a court issues the final divorce judgment, it is more than just the divorce decree. It may also include child custody, child support, and alimony orders. Florida law recognizes that post-divorce circumstances may change and would require the court to step in once again and modify the existing orders. This process is referred to as a modification.
It is worth noting that modifying court orders isn’t as straightforward as you might. More often than not, it is quite difficult to do so.
For one thing, the party seeking to modify the existing orders is burdened to show they’ve had a significant change in their circumstances to justify any alterations. If any of the modifications affect the children—directly or indirectly—the petitioner must also show that the requested changes would be in the best interests of the minors.
Additionally, the other party may object to any proposed modification of the post-divorce order. They might argue that a substantial change in circumstances has not occurred or that the proposed change is not in the child’s best interest.
For instance, a modification in the child support order may be requested when either party’s financial situation has improved or declined. A modification in the parenting plan or time-sharing schedule may be requested if the custodial parent, for whatever reason, files a relocation petition with the court and serves the non-relocating parent with notice of the same.
Florida courts consider a broad range of factors when deciding whether to grant a relocation request. Nonetheless, all these factors have one thing in common: They assess whether uprooting the child from their principal residence and moving them more than 50 miles away would be in their best interest.
Examples of circumstances that may warrant a modification of a child relocation order include:
- If the custodial parent moves without written notice to or consent from the non-custodial parent or the court;
- If one of the child’s parents refuses to adhere to the terms of the custody order;
- If the physical, emotional, mental, or developmental needs of the child change, making one of the parents better suited to caring for them;
- If the custodial parent’s situation regarding their economic status, employment status, health status, or any other circumstance has changed, it will negatively affect the child’s life and well-being.
Quick Tip: A recent change in the law allows the court to consider a modification to the time-sharing schedule when a parent relocates within 50 miles of the child. Therefore, existing statutory language is likely to change. This is why we say these articles are for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Florida law is always changing, and the facts of each case are unique, which can impact the outcome of a case. Therefore, we strongly recommend speaking with an experienced Florida lawyer to learn your rights.
Process of Modifying a Child Relocation Order
Right off the bat, it is worth mentioning that an existing child relocation order can be modified by agreement. The only possible exception is if one of the parents has, in the past, endangered the child’s life.
That said, Florida courts encourage parents to work together post-divorce and maintain open lines of communication to discuss the needs of their children and propose ways to meet those needs.
If the child’s parents agree to alter the parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule, these changes should be made in writing. Having an attorney draw up the modified agreement to memorialize the changes is always a good idea.
Both parties should then read through the new agreement to ensure the proposed modifications are reflected in the document. If everything is in order, each party will sign the agreement in the presence of their respective attorneys.
The original signed agreement will then be filed with the court to avoid a situation where one of the parties claims not to have agreed to the alterations.
If the Other Parent Objects to the Modification
If one of the parents does not agree to modify the existing child relocation order, the party proposing the modification must file a petition with the court. The court will then hold a hearing with both parties present. Each party is then expected to provide reasons for proposing or objecting to a modification in the existing parenting plan or custody arrangement as was provided for in the child relocation order.
If the child’s health or life is in immediate danger, the court will grant an order modifying the parenting plan and then hold a hearing immediately after to determine whether to maintain the current arrangement or revert to the previous plan.
The court has broad discretion when evaluating modification requests. This means that a judge can decide the appropriate parenting plan if, in their view, the plan in question is in the child’s best interests. The burden of proof rests on the parent seeking the modification to prove to the court that the new plan they propose is in the child’s best interest.
Once this burden is attained, the burden of proof shifts to the objecting party to show why the proposed modification is not in the best interests of the child.
Enforcement of Child Relocation Orders in Florida
The primary objective of enforcement is to ensure that all parties comply with post-divorce court orders. If one party believes that the other is not adhering to the provisions of the court order or that they are not being implemented appropriately, they, through their attorney, can employ various legal methods to force their cooperation.
While a modification allows for changes to existing orders when circumstances warrant it, enforcement ensures that all parties comply with relocation orders to maintain stability for the child and protect the rights of everyone involved. The ultimate goal of enforcing relocation orders is to ensure the best interests of the child remain the focus.
Methods of Enforcing Relocation Orders
If a parenting plan or custody agreement states that each parent gets to spend a certain amount of time with the child, and one of them is either withholding the child or not adhering to the terms of the relocation order, the aggrieved party can file an enforcement order request with the court that entered the original or modified order. If, despite this approach, the other party fails to comply, the aggrieved parent may:
- Request the court to hold them in contempt;
- Request the court to sanction them; or
- Pursue criminal charges.
The consequences of non-compliance with relocation orders include:
- Holding the non-compliant parent in contempt of court;
- Modification of the existing time-sharing schedule;
- Enforcement through law enforcement agencies;
- Civil remedies and injunctions against the errant party.
Case Studies: Examples of Successful Modifications and Enforcement
Case Study 1: Modification of Child Relocation Order Due to Change in Circumstances
By law, a custodial parent’s desire to relocate with a child isn’t considered a substantial change in circumstances significant enough to warrant modification of custody.
The modification of the shared parental responsibility order changing the child’s primary residence from their mother to father could not be based solely on the trial court’s denial of the mother’s petition to relocate with the child from Florida to Georgia.
She was unable to demonstrate any substantial change in circumstance to warrant the child’s relocation. The trial court did not deem the proposed move to be in the child’s best interests. Miller v. Miller, 992 So. 2d 346 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2008)
Case Study 2: Successful Enforcement of a Child Relocation Order Through Legal Action
Sufficient evidence supported the trial court’s denial of the mother’s relocation petition. This denial came in light of the mother’s argument that the proposed relocation was in the child’s best interest as she had secured stable employment out-of-state with a higher salary and job security.
The trial court concluded that relocation would have removed the child from their extended family and would not have increased their educational opportunities. While the trial court did not ignore the mother’s evidence, it found that the proposed relocation’s negative impact on the child outweighed the potential benefits of the move. Ness v. Martinez, 249 So. 3d 754 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2018)
The trial court did not misapply the law when it allowed a mother and child to relocate to the United Kingdom. The child had been residing in the UK, where she had been close to her immediate and extended family members.
The child’s performance in school was exceptional, and she had adjusted well to her new environment. The court found it in the child’s best interest not to relocate her again. Wraight v. Wraight, 71 So. 3d 139 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2011)
Tips for Parents Involved in Child Relocation Cases
If you are involved in a child relocation case, here are three tips you can use to help you get the best outcome:
- Seek legal advice and representation: An experienced attorney will provide you with professional legal representation throughout the process and ensure your rights are protected every step of the way. They will help you understand your parental rights and obligations to your child.
- Maintain clear and effective communication with your co-parent: Fostering open dialogue and cooperation ensures that both parents are on the same page and working together to develop a parenting plan. It ensures that the best interests of the child remain the primary focus.
- Document evidence and maintain a record of compliance: Even if you and your ex are on great terms, always document and maintain a record proving your compliance with the relocation order and custody arrangement. Sufficient evidence may be useful when justifying or objecting to a modification in the existing child relocation order.
An existing child relocation order can be modified by a written agreement, which must be signed by both parents and filed with the court. If one of the parties does not agree to modify the existing order, the parent or legal guardian proposing the modification would have to file a petition with the court.
Enforcement ensures that all parties comply with relocation orders to maintain stability for the child and protect the rights of everyone involved. When seeking to modify an existing parental plan or custody agreement, the focus should always be the best interests of the child.
If you want to relocate with your child or object to the other parent’s proposed relocation, then it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced family law attorney to explore your legal options. Most experienced family law attorneys will provide you with a free consultation either in-person or over the phone. Get in touch with us now.
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